Will Use Code Enforcement To Shutter Maternity Hotels, County Official Says

(May 10) Based on the city of Chino Hills’ experience with a spate of so-called Chinese maternity hotels, the county board of supervisors this week heard a report from the county’s top planning official relating to its options in preventing their establishment and operation in unincorporated county areas.
Three such birthing centers were operating in Chino Hills in 2012 beneath the city’s land use regulatory radar until their existence became publicly known in the late fall. In the most highly publicized case, Hai Yong Wu and Yi Wang began operating a maternity hotel out of what was originally a seven-bedroom home located at 5250 Woodglen Drive in Chino Hills. After it became known that Wu and Wang were housing pregnant women from China in the final stages of their pregnancy at the home in the upscale neighborhood so that their children could be credited with U.S. Citizenship, a wave of protest ensued. Upon confirming that the house was being advertised as “Los Angeles Hermas Hotel” intended to provide pre-birth and post-birth resting quarters for Chinese women, the city of Chino Hills sent code enforcement personnel to the premises, who found that the home, originally built in 1974 with seven bedrooms and six bathrooms, had been altered to feature 17 bedrooms and 17 bathrooms, many of which were not built to code. The inspectors documented no fewer than 18 code violations and then used citations generated on the basis of those to force operations there to temporarily cease.
As part of a follow-up effort to prevent the Woodglen Drive home from reopening as a maternity hotel, the city had city attorney Mark Hensley seek an injunction barring Wu and Wang from operating the facility. A pre-injunction hearing was scheduled for February 19. Before that hearing took place however, Hensley succeeded in obtaining a stipulated agreement whereby nine of the building code violations were acknowledged and a correction plan was put into place. Under the terms of that agreement, which was confirmed as a court-ordered settlement issued by West Valley Superior Court Judge Keith Davis on February 11, Wang was dismissed as a party and Wu was required to remedy sewage line discharge violations, cover exposed electrical wires on the premises, outfit the single entrance bedrooms with emergency exits, provide ventilation, correct illegal construction of add-on rooms in the house, install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and alarms, and ensure clearance of flammable materials.
Hensley also reported the stipulated agreement contained a provision that the property cannot be used for commercial purposes, effectively shuttering the house as a birthing facility, he claimed.
Two other smaller but  similar establishments which had set up operation in Chino Hills have quietly ceased operations in the face of rising public opposition.
This week the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors received a report presented by Tom Hudson, the county’s land use services director, on code compliance and legal issues related to maternity hotels.
“On February 26, 2013, the board of supervisors directed staff to research and evaluate what the county can do to protect public health and safety concerning the operation of maternity hotels,” Hudson said. “The term ‘maternity hotel’ typically applies to a place providing lodging and other services for women who travel to the United States specifically to give birth in this country and establish U.S. citizenship for their children. Women pay sums ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 to travel legally to the United States on tourist visas and stay approximately two months. During their stay, they give birth and receive assistance with documentation of the child’s U.S. citizenship. This practice is also known as ‘birth tourism’ and multiple web sites are devoted to facilitating travel arrangements, accommodations and establishment of the child’s citizenship.”
Hudson’s report continued, “In a recent incident, a large single-family residence in the city of Chino Hills was found to have been operating as a maternity hotel. Unpermitted additions and interior modifications had been made to establish 17 individual bedrooms and bathrooms in the house, resulting in failure and overflow of the home’s septic system. This was an extreme case that attracted attention because of the combined impact of illegal construction, overcrowding, and sewage overflow. Other cases, mostly in Los Angeles County, are discovered through complaints to code enforcement from  neighbors who notice the sudden appearance or continual stream of pregnant foreign tourists occupying the homes.
“An important point regarding the burgeoning birth tourism trend is that travelling to this country on a tourist visa while pregnant is legal,” Hudson said. “The federal government has sole authority to regulate and control immigration in the United States. County staff has studied the issue based on information from other jurisdictions where maternity hotels have been discovered. Three key activities related to establishment of these facilities have been identified and all would be illegal and subject to investigation, fines and other enforcement measures as provided in the San Bernardino County Code:
“First,” Hudson said, “operation of a maternity hotel would fall under the existing defined uses of either a boarding house or a lodging service. Both uses are prohibited in single-family residential districts, and therefore any operation of a maternity hotel in these districts would be illegal.
“Second,” Hudson went on, “construction to expand or modify a house in a single-family residential zone to accommodate a maternity hotel use without obtaining proper permits would be a code violation, subject to enforcement under standard procedures and existing regulations. A permit request for this type of modification would be denied based on the land use requirements outlined in No. 1 above.
“Third, depending on the number of women and infants housed in a facility and the conditions and standard of care provided for the infants, there is a potential for child welfare or public health concerns, such as the septic issues that arose in Chino Hills. Code enforcement staff has protocols in place for calling in other agencies as needed to respond to conditions they may find in the field.
“To date,” Hudson said, “county code enforcement has not received any reports of maternity hotels operating in the unincorporated area of the county, but code enforcement staff is ready to respond in the event a complaint is received.”

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